In some ways, 'Land', about a fiftysomething city-dweller who moves to a remote log cabin in Wyoming, recalls the Robert-Redford-lost-at-sea title 'All Is Lost'. But whereas that film was mostly about the fight of a mute Redford against the elements, here the protagonist is faced with devastating personal trauma, putting it closer to the Reese Witherspoon vehicle 'Wild'.
A large amount of time passes before any meaningful dialogue is uttered, as we see Edee (Robin Wright, 'Wonder Woman', who also makes her directorial debut), in a therapy session draped in anaemic neutral colours, before she chucks out most of her belongings and takes a glorious, sun-speckled drive up the mountains. "Why am I still here?" she cries on her helpless sister's shoulder, and Edee's particular answer to the gnawing sorrow is revealed in a bucolic title card sequence. The early scenes install a sombre approach, as Edee's bruised interactions with others suggest someone who is seeking more than just space to grieve.
From the outside, Edee's new pad, which overlooks a vast valley of flora and fauna, looks idyllic. Everything feels at once ordinary and otherworldly, evoking a sense of the surreal in the everyday. It's about 25 minutes in when we realise she doesn't have the survival skills to cope in her new environment and her lifestyle change is, perhaps, purposely self-destructive. The sense of disorientation and being utterly alone in the world is palpably rendered as she struggles to chop wood, catch fish and hears bears prowling around the outside of the cabin at night. So far, so 'The Revenant', as the winter snow reaches her waist, and she resorts to eating crumbs off her filthy shack floor
But what was one of the main attractions in 'All Is Lost' is eventually subsumed by the crutches that screenwriters tend to lean on. Co-writers Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam gradually shift focus from Edee's survival story to focus on expository dialogue, emotional outbursts, and especially the dreaded backstory. Cue: slow-motion flashbacks and hallucinations. Like 'Nomadland', reverence is given to the balm of routine and the joy of a really good view - of which there are plenty. But, for most of the movie's length, everything that 'Nomadland' pulls off with honesty and specificity, 'Land' does with obviousness and a healthy dose of contrivance.
Carrying the majority of the film, Wright is impressive in a demanding role that's 70 per cent silence and 30 per cent dialogue.
Wright, having decided to direct the project, struggled to find a lead able to film within the tight 30-day shooting schedule, so cast herself. Carrying the majority of the film, she is impressive in a role that's 70 per cent silence and 30 per cent dialogue. She's like a dancer: straining and exerting in a ballet of movements that convey meaning not by words, but actions. While the pain of blisters and hypothermia and starvation are credibly performed, Wright does her best work here detailing Edee's grief (the exact cause of which is withheld until mere minutes before the closing credits), and watching her break down is like watching one of your parents cry - awkward and uncomfortable, yet transfixing. And when her character is reduced to something like catatonia, her drained silence speaks volumes, echoing the way the audience, at that point, probably also feels. She's ably assisted by two ever-wonderful actors: the smartly cast Kim Dickens as her concerned sister and Demián Bichir ('The Nun') as Miguel, who teaches Edee the ways of the world and reminding her of her humanity and relative privilege.
Filming this cannot have been easy, but the assembly is pro on all levels. It's an impressive effort from Wright as a director, and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski, whose work is postcard-gorgeous. That said, technically, the biggest stars are the colour graders, who have turned the wilds of Wyoming into a hypnotic, vacation-brochure mix of blues and greens that sharply contrasts with the life and death situation of the protagonist.
There is an inherent fascination in witnessing an individual cope with the elements, against the vastness of the wilderness. 'Land' is beautifully shot and acted, but less is sometimes more when it comes to screenplay.